Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

Blame is an interesting thing.

When we blame someone, or something, we get a charge out of it, don’t we?  Ahhh, we feel right, we feel potent, we feel “better.”

But something interesting happens neurologically…

When we blame, our brain shuts down.  Clicks off.  Because blame is, by its nature, external to us.  We remove ourselves from the process that led to the result.  And since we’re not there, we cannot be part of altering it.  Our brain stops trying to be with it, work with it, figure it out.  We devolve ourselves of all responsibility, and therefore, of all agency.

We lose power in having an impact in the situation.

It’s a delicious irony, really, that disconnect between how it makes us feel, all puffed up and right, and the impact it has, solidifying the very situation we are unhappy about.  How gruarh! we feel and how much more stuck it leaves us.  Thus leading to more unhappy results and situations, thus readily leading to more blame as a way to discharge the suffering and unhappiness.

A rather vicious cycle.

The antidote is to take responsibility.  Not blame, but responsibility.  Reclaim the agency.  We can’t always make something go exactly as we want it to, but we can always have a say in how it goes.

And with that, suffering diminishes and possibilities open up.

Architecture Monday

Herzog and de Meuron’s first project in North America, the winery at the Dominus Estate is a great example of the beauty of architecture everywhere.  That is, even a ‘working building’*  can, and should, be one of good design, one that enhances the activities within and without, and enlivens those who enter, work, or pass by.  It also says “let the site decide”, using a decidedly low-tech and straightforward and rugged system of gabions – those wire mesh cages filled with stones usually used at the banks of rivers – to form the outer facade of the building.  In one delightful stroke, these rocks provide thermal mass to regulate the building’s temperature, a hardy exterior material, provide a splendid interior light quality, and create a texture and a colour scheme that complements the vineyards and surrounding hills.

The two roads that trisect the building tie the form to the field, making them a part of each other while, from the inside, strikingly framing those same fields and the hills beyond.  They also separate the use within, delineating the winemaking spaces and process.  While being encased in rock, the building sits lightly upon the land, humble yet strong.

It is as though the very terroir of the vineyards was extruded upwards, just enough, to illustrate the wonders of the wine being made all around.

* – Here I moreover would ask why would we even make a distinction between a ‘working’ building vs any other building… ?

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

One of the greatest treasures to learn, and develop, is the ability to be with yourself.

In isolation, undistracted, alone, with yourself.

Great things emerge in that stillness:  ideas, creativity, reason, exploration, investigation, concentration, perception, perspective…  and, perhaps most surprisingly, connection.

For the more you can be with yourself, the more you can be with and be available to others.

The more you can be with yourself, the more you can fulfill on that which enlivens you.

The more you can be with yourself, the more out in the world you can be.

Architecture Monday

One of the projects I was assigned in first year studio took place at the old Carleton County Gaol-turned-youth-hostel in Ottawa.  An interesting building and history – check it out.  We started the project intensively surveying and documenting of the site, including (as one of our assignments) a series of detail photographs.  Which led to this photograph I took:


I love this photo, and still have it hanging on my wall today.  Why?  Because of the craft.  This is a wooden entryway shed, added to provide a windbreak and vestibule to the main building, to deal with the snow and the cold winters. Simple structure, but the craft is in that intersection.  Amazing craft.  The craft and the time and the detail and the work, the care to cut the wood of the new entry shed to meet and marry and interlock and seal with the original rough-cut stone of the building.  Painstaking time to cut the jigs and jogs and get them to fit.  Craft and craftwork.

That’s just amazing, quality, and prideful work.  It inspires me to this day.

Wonder Wednesday

This is an absolutely delightful series that begins cutely, dives into funny, gets suddenly quite dark, and emerges in a shining brilliance.  It is storytelling at its finest, with few words and lots of heart.  It was also one of the great pioneers of what “new media” comics could do.

It’s worth watching again and again, and never fails to make me smile.


There she is!!!

In its original Flash glory:

Step 1:

Step 2:

Step 3:

Step 4:

Step 5:

And someone has also edited them all together into a single YouTube video:

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement.  It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

There’s a difference between thinking, and having thoughts.  And I’d posit that most of what we call thinking – such as “Here’s what I think” or “I think we should” – is actually closer to thoughting:  a thought, from somewhere, pulled out of the thinking box spitter outer, pops up in our mind.  And we go with it.  “A thought occurred to me,”  is much closer to what’s actually going on.

Thoughts lie in that realm of what we know, what we’ve heard, our opinion, our view, the conventional or unconventional wisdom, what we believe, our identity, and/or our stake in the world.  They arise, fully formed, to tell us how it is, and how it’s not.  It’s automatic.  They’re just there, ready.  Sometimes we get to pick one.  Often there’s only “The One.”

“I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought.”

– William Deresiewicz

Thinking, conversely, is an active phenomenon, requiring us to engage intellectually with and grapple with things.  We go back to first principals, go back to the primordial, and work forward.  We take it all in and let all of our faculties (from tangible to ethereal) work on it, make connections, discard things, draw associations, play with it, put it back, turn it around, and see what comes out of it.

Thoughting is useful, and quick, yet it has some pitfalls.  In the realm of thoughting, we can be dismissive really fast if something challenges our thoughts.  We can also be accepting really fast if something reinforces our thoughts.  We can fight and kill off (sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally) for something that contradicts our thoughts.   We can be taken in and led astray, get caught in feedback loops* and cognitive dissonance, and miss many opportunities and freedoms.

When we want to grow, expand, nourish, and transform ourselves, it requires effortful and intentful thinking.

Thinking caps, anyone?

* – Which is why it is useful to have an other there to guide us away and keep our thinking in the realm of thinking and not drift into thoughting…

Gaming Thursday: RPG System 10: For Whom the Bell Rolls

When I began my RPGing career, I was a big fan of percentile-based systems for task resolutions.  It seemed the most rational:  you had X percent chance of making it, so you rolled against that.   Seemingly simple and straightforward.  Later d10 or d20 based systems (much more sane – 5% granularity is more than enough, thank you) carried that forward, with quick-to-resolve results.

But… there’s a thing about those results.  They’re linear, and they’re swingy.

For the most part, once people become proficient at something, they perform relatively reliably, consistently, at that task.  Their results cluster together.  Sometimes they do a bit better, sometimes a bit worse, and rarely will the needle move much beyond with a horrible fork up or an astounding success.   If they’re not proficient, their results will be more varied, but again, they’ll somewhat cluster around a certain point.  Because of this, if the difficulty of the task increases, the results don’t have a gradual even decline, they tend to drop precipitously.

So, in game terms, a system that would want to model this would work it out so that a PC’s skill check results would cluster together, and modifiers would be geometrically cumulative.

Let me back up for a second and say, there’s no denying the blatant sense of if you have a 75% chance to hit, then you need a 75% on your percentile die (or 16 or better on a d20).  It’s about as blam accurate as you can get.  The key, however, is in determining that 75%… especially if you want to model clustering, and if you want to incorporate a Margin of Success system in the game.  Because to generate that 75% with a linear die, you’ll have to have some sort of chart or formula to calculate that target number, and that is quite the pain.

Fortunately, of course, we have the beauty of the bell curve to the rescue, in the form of multiple dice.  Even 2d10, or 3d6, or the FUDGE dice, makes for something that clusters quite nicely, and adding or subtracting a modifier to the target number there not only varies the actual chance of success based on how hard or easy the chance already was, but multiple modifiers it also cumulatively add up in a non-linear fashion.

And I say that not only more closely models what happens in “reality”, but also makes for an easier story to build and a greater grasp of your character’s abilities.  You know about where things will land, most of the time.  And as a player, while the big wins are awesome, the times you bork up a supposedly easy roll just feels frustrating and weird.

This, all in all, is another reason why I’m going for a multi-die system in this system design.  While curve is a lot different than a pure XdX die system, it shares many of the same advantages of clustering and of modifier variance (along with the visceral feel and ease of die add/subtracting).

Philosophy Tuesday

This is a philosophical statement. It is intended to spark thinking and examining.

I’ve got a little martial arts story that I’d say applies very well as a philosophical analogy.

One day we were practicing joint locks and grappling in class, and Sifu was showing us a move, and then the counter, and then the counter to the counter. Every move had a counter movement, which could be countered, and so on. Best of all, the counters came not from resistance, but from responding.

As Sifu put one of my classmates in a joint lock and secured it, the classmate asked “What’s the counter from here, Sifu?” Sifu replied, “Nothing. It’s too late, the move is done. You need to counter before this point.”

There is a challenge often posed to those who walk the philosophical paths: “So when someone’s got a knife at your throat, what do you do then?”

That’s a trick question. At that point, it is probably too late. The moves, the responses, need to come before that moment.

When the knives are at throats, be it screaming, punching, actual knives – or worse, those moments knives didn’t suddenly appear. There are no bogeymen who apparate from the ether, ready to strike and stab and spear. There was a path that lead to that moment, a path that became one of anger, where one felt so under siege, so unheard, and so trapped that it became unbearable. The only path that seemed left was to blame and to lash out. Anger lead to hate.

Bleed the anger, and you prevent the hate — in both directions.

But you need to bleed the anger before the knife is at your throat. This takes being present, listening, empathy, compassion, and humility. Humility to recognize and even take on that you had something to do with their anger and with the situation(s) that would drive them to this action. Not as blame, but as responsibility, a place to stand that grants you agency.

We can do this in our own lives, in our communities, and between societies and nations.

And if you missed it, and if the knife is now at your throat, you can start right now. And do so knowing that, as it took time to get to this point, it will take time to move away from it, and your throat may get cut a few times.* It will certainly take more work to walk back now than it would have had your responded before. But it is an action still worth doing, to keep more knives from being put on more throats.

It is a practice, and it takes a lifelong of practice. And what it could make available for our lives, for our communities, for nations, and for the world, is remarkable. It is a practice worth engaging in.

* Slightly mixed metaphors here…

Architecture Monday

click for project info

Now we’re talking! Re-use of an old utilitarian steel grain silo to create a wonderful cozy loft-y house. In a small space such as this (probably less than 20′ in diameter ) clarity of form and spaces wins out, and architect Christoph Kaiser has done it. The loft overhead bisects the vertical space in two, twice – vertically and horizontally – creating two distinct spatial experiences on the ground floor and a surprisingly expansive experience on the mezzanine as the ceiling reaches towards a retractable skylight at the silo’s peak, flooding the space with natural light. The silo’s form and insulated insertion also helps make the house a fine performer in passive ventilation, heating, and cooling. Throw in a fine selection of materials, integrated little shelves and nooks and touches, and a 9′ curving glass door that opens the space to their also-circular yard, and it’s golden.